Adapted from a recent online discussion.
If the relationship is one you want, counseling is worth it
Q: How do you know when a relationship has become too much work? My boyfriend of three years wants to go to couples counseling, and while I am willing to try to work out our problems, I am not optimistic about a couple that has had problems for almost half the relationship and already needs counseling.
I love him, he loves me, but I am questioning if counseling is the answer or if we should just move on with our lives. We've both been through a lot in those three years and have been a great support for each other. But I feel like the relationship has suffered a great deal and the thought of going to counseling for this simply feels both more exhausting and more stressful.
How Much Is Too Much?
Carolyn: These can go either way. If you both function pretty well in general — i.e., if your relationships with most people are satisfying and drama-free — then it probably doesn't make sense to work extra hard to stay with someone who brings out the drama in you, or just wears you out.
But if you struggle in other relationships, too, and if you like each other enough to want to remove obstacles to intimacy, then try counseling (with a reputable counselor, as always). It's a great way to help each of you recognize and break bad emotional habits, which undermine your efforts to become and remain close to and supportive of each other. I'd advise individual counseling first in these cases, but unless one of you is controlling, it's fine to start out with couples counseling.
Some examples of bad habits: a need to control things, a quickness to take things personally, a fear of admitting fault, an unwillingness to get a diagnosis or treatment for a chronic illness, a tenuous relationship with truth-telling, a fear of admitting true feelings, a fear of saying no or being the bad guy, a reliance on easy escapes.
Too Much again: Thank you for taking my question! My boyfriend and I function well day-to-day, it's just that we both have gone through a lot of stress and have grown apart.
This has manifested itself in my feeling disconnected, especially during times when we're intimate. We're both very drama-free, with friends and with each other. He's great and has no egregious behaviors, but during the course of that very stressful period in our lives, I began to wonder if he and I were right together.
He thinks this can be fixed with counseling. I am having trouble getting over this "it doesn't feel right" feeling. Is this a legit feeling or do I just try to move past it?
Carolyn: You have to acknowledge the feeling as legitimate, because you feel it — but you can do that and still give therapy a try. It's not as if it leaves a scarlet T on your pinafore; you can go just to see whether there's any value in it. You can go and still decide it's just not a relationship you want to work on anymore.
Your decision is essentially break up now versus counseling, and it hinges on something deceptively simple: whether this relationship is one you want to fix.